Stats say throw Smith to Lions - or vice versa
Your eyes have not been deceiving you when you have watched the Brumbies go about their business this season and you sense them to be on another level to the Waratahs and the other Australian sides.
Stat sheets land on the desks of the Australian Super coaches and, crucially, Robbie Deans after each round, breaking down the individual performance of every player in Australia in some detail. The Herald has seen last weekend's analysis. Jake White's men are simply doing that little bit more, and with greater quality. And no one is doing it better than George Smith.
The categories are varied, but say much about workload, physicality and accuracy. The number of ruck arrivals are added up, along with what the player actually did when he got there. Tackles are counted in terms of effectiveness. Ball carries are noted and success at the gain-line recorded. There are no hiding places for any player in Australia – No.10s, for example – and the stats do not take reputation into consideration.
Dominant: Brumbies flanker George Smith. Photo: Rohan Thomson
When it comes to the Wallabies No.7 jersey things become very interesting, and those in their 30s will take pleasure.
Industrious Waratah Michael Hooper arrived at 46 ruck situations against the Cheetahs and won all of his gain-line collisions, although he made only eight tackles at an accuracy rate of 67 per cent, missing four. By comparison, Reds youngster Liam Gill made 16 tackles and missed none, but did not carry the ball as well.
Yet it is the old man, Smith – a sprightly 32 – who has reminded the kids he is still a dominant figure. He arrived at 43 rucks, contesting the ball at a significant percentage of them, won his gain-line battles and made a staggering 23 tackles – almost twice that of Hooper – at a success rate of 91 per cent. For good measure, he made 17 passes, including five offloads. In fact, he made more offloads than Hooper or Gill made passes.
Rewind a week to the Brumbies-Waratahs game and his figures are no less flattering. In 66 minutes Smith attended more rucks than Hooper did in 80. And when he got there, he spent 36 per cent of his time contesting the ball and making a complete pest of himself compared with Hooper's 10 per cent. His appetite for, and tolerance of, physical punishment seems undiminished. This is British and Irish Lions form, should he be eligible. He is certainly on the Wallabies' radar.
Among his teammates Deans has also recently dropped the name of Ben Mowen. Last weekend against the Sharks, the big No.6 arrived at 37 rucks, had 100 per cent effectiveness at or over the gain-line and missed one from 13 tackles. Waratahs captain Dave Dennis had one less ruck arrival, missed one tackle of nine and had a gain-line stat of just 60 per cent. Mowen is adding that extra physical punch at present, as had been requested from on high.
The tale is repeated throughout the packs. Wallabies loose-head Benn Robinson arrived at 11 rucks in his 40 minutes against the Cheetahs, and two from three ball carries were deemed ineffective. Contrastingly, young Brumbies bull Scott Sio had 27 ruck arrivals in 60 minutes, and his involvement at those breakdowns was also deemed more effective than Robinson's. He also carried the ball eight times, all of which were successful.
In the second row, Wallabies giant Sitaleki Timani had nine carries of the ball, although two were rated ineffective and his gain-line success was a surprisingly low 38 per cent. The man wearing the Brumbies' No.4 jersey, Peter Kimlin, surpassed that, charging forward 10 times and making more metres with a gain-line success of 100 per cent.
In the other comparison between Wallaby and Test aspirant, Sam Carter made it to more breakdowns and made more tackles than Kane Douglas, although his ball carries were slightly less effective.
Does this information mean the Wallabies will pick a swath of uncapped players and throw them to the Lions? Of course not. Statistics are part of the picture, not the whole. But the remarkable Smith, with 110 Test caps to his name, is already in a different category. And the numbers just confirm it.